A new Perspective After 37 Years
In ninth grade, my dad began handing me books to read, to sharpen the mind of the would-be writer. I’d sit in the Living Room, normally reserved for company, put on an album, slip on the headphones, and sit in the easy chair with a paperback. That’s how I first read Thomas Wolfe and J.D. Salinger among others. This is the first time he gave me The Grapes of Wrath, which I deferred reading for nearly four decades. I appreciated the effort and wish we’d actually taken the time to talk about these works.
In tenth grade, my English teacher was John F.X. Tobin a man who seemed to mumble his way through the lessons. I didn’t necessarily get along well with him and recall disliking just about every book we were forced to read in that class. Still, between what my dad had me read and the stuff Mr. Tobin shoved down our throats, I began to appreciate other writers and styles. By the end of tenth grade, I began turning around my grades and academic outlook.
Still, looking back, I have visceral negative reactions to many of the books we read from Ethan Fromme to Old Man and the Sea to My Antonia.
Flash forward 37 years to this past week. I’m zipping through my required reading for the online class and among the books is Willa Cather’s tale of life in Nebraska. I opened My Antonia with trepidation, those dark feelings still lingering in my memory.
Amazing what happens when you mature and grow up. The book caught me by surprise and I fairly devoured it. Cather’s depiction of the immigrant settling of those bleak lands and the relationship between Jim and Antonia is compelling stuff. I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed the book.
Will I feel the same way with other books from that period? Maybe. Still, my loathing for Catcher in the Rye and Old Man and the Sea are so strong that someone may have to put a gun to my head before I try them again. I do recognize, though, that as a future teacher, I will need to do a solid job of explaining why these books are being read today and what sets them apart from everything else published. The pre-teaching may become the most important aspect of any unit and that’s an important lesson to learn now.